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CN December 13 2018

They didn’t really succeed at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But a few years after they dropped out, two old friends re-connected. Both had ben successful in business and both still had a burning attraction to the arts. It’s the mid-1920’s and the area around North and Wells is teeming with boarding-houses and low-income tenements. But there are also some fine old buildings in the mix – grand victorians and solid apartment blocks, mostly run-down and sub-divided into tiny apartments.

They bought the building at 155 Carl Street (Now Burton).

Over the next few years they transformed the building into a artist lofts and started attracting young bohemians looking for a different, creative kind of life. Before long, they’d transformed many buildings in the area.

What they didn’t know is that they were igniting a movement. In his new book The Battle of Lincoln Park, author Daniel Kay Hertz calls them the Rehabbers.

Nobody was concerned that the tenants already living in their building were displaced. It probably only affected a few people and there were lots of other places for them to go.   But a decade later as more and more buildings were being bought up and rehabbed, displacement was becoming a serious issue. Gentrification had arrived in Chicago.

Hertz tells in great detail how the Rehabbers, convinced they were saving the inner city as their peers ran off to the suburbs, formed community associations to fight for their goals. But, increasingly, they were finding themselves in conflict with their non-Rehabber neighbors.

“One of the things that that leads to,” Hertz explains, “is that they lobby to bring in an urban renewal program, and they end up tearing down about one out of three buildings in the sort of initial renewal area which is right around the Old Town Triangle. It’s…a level of physical destruction that the neighborhood hadn’t seen since the great fire.”

What they ended up creating was something Hertz calls “their own little green zone.” And the tensions with their neighbors began to rise.

“They were aware that low income people and housing that provided affordable housing for low-income people, and later on people from Appalachia or from Puerto Rico threatened that, and threatened their property values,” he asserts. “That becomes, I think, into the ‘50s and ‘60s, that becomes the central tension of their program.”

“So they successfully get certified as a federal urban renewal area in 1956,” he continues. “They start actually certifying the plans and stuff in the early 1960s, and there’s three big things that they do. So the first one is they create what they call a modified super highway on North Avenue which at that time was a two-lane street with dense storefronts and then a couple of stories of apartments above it. And they clear that out. They demolish the entire north side of that and expand it effectively creating a sort of barrier between the triangle north of North Avenue and the much lower income in the much blacker area south of North Avenue. The second thing they do is they do something similar on Larrabee Street which is sort on the western edge of the triangle, and they don’t widen it but they do essentially tear down every building from North Avenue to Webster, so for three-quarters of a mile virtually every building was torn down and replaced with modern townhomes. And they also create Oz Park, which is a couple of blocks right at the top of that section of Larrabee that was full of six flats and colleges and a couple of hundred people who were just sort of thrown out for what’s now Oz Park. And that also kind of creates a barrier between the triangle on the east and the lower income and especially more Puerto Rican areas to the west and to the north.

And then the last thing they do is Ogden. Which interesting. Ogden had been itself a kind of early urban renewal project. It was one of the few diagonal boulevards from the Burnham Plan that actually got built, so it sort of got punched through up to the lake. But by the early 1960s the argument from the rehabbers was it’s this big ugly street that the traffic is…it’s not being used as much as it could be. You know you would also notice if you looked at a map that Ogden ran right from the triangle directly to Cabrini-Green. And by closing Ogden they closed off a major sort of arterial connection to Cabrini-Green into Lincoln Park.”

This was all happening, it should be noted, shortly after the Cabrini-Green towers were beginning to rise. And Hertz tells us that his research showed him something about he neighborhood the he hadn’t fully realized.

“The history of that neighborhood, the former Cabrini-Green, had been a very low-income deeply stigmatized neighborhood far back well into the 1800s, first as Irish and then Sicilian and then increasingly black in the early 20thCentury. And there’s an editorial from the Tribune from I believe the 1920s saying basically look we’ve created, in the words of the time,  a “black belt” on the south side right through Bronzeville. They could already tell, okay, there’s a little bit of a black belt forming on the west side. Is this area that became Cabrini-Green, is this going to form a black belt on the north side? We have to stop it.”

At about the same time, Arthur Rubloff proposes to the City that they tear down multiple blocks along Clark Street, or “La Clark” as its mostly Mexican and Puerto-Rican residents call it. He builds a wall of luxury high rises, calling it Sandburg Village. It serves, among other things, as a buffer between the tony Magnificent Mile and the poor enclaves to the immediate west. But many of the displaced people move into north Lincoln Park, which further upsets the Lincoln Park Rehabbers

Radical opposition to the gentrifiers and urban renewal begins to rise to the north. A faction of the Young Lords assembles in a church at Armitage just west of Halsted and the tensions grow so rapidly that the pastor and his wife are murdered.

But through it all, gentrification – and  urban renewal – continued. And the impact over a few decades was staggering. Between 1950 and 1970, the population of Lincoln Park dropped from 102,000 to 68,000 just as a result of de-conversions of buildings. Urban Renewal programs, in which entire square miles were simply bulldozed with federal “slum-clearance” funding, removed thousands more people from the area.

“One of the things I wanted to do with the book was say, Look, we have these conversations about gentrification, that at least in my experience go back – okay maybe we talk about Wicker Park in the ‘90s or maybe the ‘80s, but you can trace those back to the ‘40s or the ‘30s or the ‘20s even. It’s the same thing”

You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show here.

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CN December 6 2018

A thriving suburb advertises itself as “close enough to the city for industry — far enough away for good clean suburban living.” And it was close, too -right next door to Chicago across from Riverdale on the far south side.

But over a few short years thousands of well-paying blue-collar jobs in steel and manufacturing just disappeared, with nothing to replace them. Many of the most-white residents, while not rich, have enough resources to move away in search of other jobs, and they do, quickly. Suddenly, hundreds of well-maintained mid-century houses are on the market for unusually low prices.

African-American Chicagoans, striving for years to find a better alternative to to their violent, under-resourced neighborhoods recognized an opportunity. They moved, by the thousands, in a very short time-span, into this community that represented, to them, a great opportunity.

But the lack of jobs, the steadily-rising inability to pay property taxes and mortgage foreclosures begin to take their toll. Within 20 years, Dolton becomes a poster-chid for suburban poverty.

A stunning history of the decline of Dolton (and by comparison, a cluster of similar suburbs adjacent to it) has been presented in a reporting collaboration between the BGA and WBEZ.  You can read Casey Toner’s written narrative for the BGA here. And you can listen to Miles Bryan’s audio reports for WBEZ here.

Both reporters appeared on this week’s Chicago Newsroom.

“The Great Recession just had this enormous effect on these communities, Toner explains. “The housing market especially was just devastated. I was talking to an academic at UIC and one of the things she told me that stuck in my mind is that people that can move do. There’s always people in Dolton that bought these houses and when that recession hit the value of their homes has plunged by more than 30%, and so there’s all these houses that are under water and it keeps people kind of locked there, because if they leave they just take this giant hit on their home value. And so just by staying in a town like Dolton or staying in a town like Calumet City or Harvey or any of these suburbs people are just losing money and if they leave they are also losing money, so it’s kind of a lose/lose situation for some of these struggling residents.”

“But conversely,” Bryan responds, “there are still people coming to Dolton from Chicago in this interesting way where there are folks who still –  even for all its problems – see Dolton as somewhere where they can have a better situation than they did in some of the hardest parts of Chicago. Something we encountered really early on is if you talk to folks,  if they’ve been around for a while and you say, “How’s it going?” generally people say, “Things have gotten worse.” I mean that was almost the entirety of what we got. And then if you say, “Why?” I can’t tell you how many times I heard a variation on this answer which is, “There’s more renters now. There’s more people from the city. They don’t take care of things.”

“And you see it in the language of some of the white folks who we talked to,” he continues, “who would say, “Oh I’m not racist, but these people didn’t know how to live in the suburb. They didn’t know how to cut their lawn. They didn’t know how to do their gas, their water bill.” You see some of that language strangely coming back up now in some of the homeowners who are almost entirely black talking about renters. And so it was just something that I thought about a lot which was how do you break this cycle of economic downturn, fueling, a lot of times irrational fear of the other, the new arrival that sends the village into sort of a faster downward spiral?”

We talk in depth about Dolton’s schools, its indebtedness, its occasional three-person police shifts and the fact that today there are more suburbs mired in poverty than there are larger cities. There are no easy solutions, because often the citizens of these towns reject proposals that might seek solutions outside their own city councils, such as consolidation with other suburbs as a way to build more influence with state and county governments.

And we also discuss the rise of tax-purchasing companies, which swoop in to purchase delinquent taxes. Homeowners can usually buy their homes back from these companies, but only after having to raise, perhaps, tens of thousands of dollars to settle the debt. We ask why  there can’t be a non-profit alternative, and their answer is essentially that, since the county always gets its money under the current system, there’s no real need for government to seek a more equitable solution.

You can watch our discussion by clicking the image above.

You can listen to the audio of this show here.

You can read full transcript of the show here.CN transcript December 6 2018

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CN November 29 2018

Our guest this week is Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot.

What follows are some selected quotes from our wide-ranging hour-long conversation. You can watch the entire show by tapping the image above.

On getting onto the ballot: 

I feel very confident about it. You know having gone through ballot initiatives previously I knew that and thinking about running for mayor I needed to make sure I did a couple of things early on. Hire a really good election lawyer, which I did, and make sure that I hired somebody who had a lot of expertise and bandwidth and putting together petition drives and that’s precisely what we did. We were confident from the very beginning that we were evaluating our petitions that were coming in real time to make sure that we were getting a high enough rate, meaning that people who signed up for us were actually registered to vote, that their addresses were consistent with what was in the Board of Elections archives, so I feel very very confident about where we are.

We got signatures from all 50 wards, a wide range. We had in addition to some paid staff we had over 100 volunteers over the course of time, so this was something that we took very very seriously. We devoted a significant amount of time and resources to make sure that we got it right. Of course when we started we thought our principal nemesis was going to be Rahm Emanuel with his tens of millions of dollars, but even after he jumped out we knew that you can do everything else, but if you don’t get on the ballot it’s off or not. So we wanted to make sure that we got this completely right and I feel very confident about that.

Ken:          So when I walk into my Chicago precinct on February 26thyour name is going to be on that ballot?

LL:          Without a doubt. No doubt it. I have no concerns about that. I can’t stop people from challenging but they’re going to be wasting their money and resources  because our petitions are rock-solid.


On the age-old, but informal, practice of aldermanic prerogative, which allows any individual alderman to block any development in his/her own ward, without fear that other aldermen will contest the decision:

I think it’s a bad idea particularly as it manifests itself in a couple of different areas. I’ve been speaking about it in particular because it’s a real problem with respect to making sure that we have affordable housing units particularly to accommodate families in lots of different neighborhoods across the city. We have a few and a very small few of aldermen who are really using frankly aldermanic prerogative to push developers, to make sure that they are actually building affordable units. Walter Burnett is one who comes to mind. But the vast majority of aldermen really fight against it and are subject to the kind of nimby not in my backyard of uprisings that happen from time to time. One of the ones that the Reader has covered I think extensively is what happened in John Arena’s ward where he wanted initially 100-unit and then now has gotten it down to a 75-unit, very modest facility to help accommodate seniors and veterans.

And you would think that he was trying to resurrect some of the old notorious housing project towers in his neighborhood. And then on the other end of the spectrum you’ve got Napolitano who initially said yes and then vetoed a project that had affordable housing units in it that was intended to accommodate workers who have jobs at O’Hare.

Even though it is unwritten it is a known reality, and so it has the potential to breed corruption. So what it means is if you are a developer or you’re a businessperson or you are somebody that wants to just do business in the ward you’ve got to go and kiss the ring of the aldermen. And then if you have corruption as we’ve seen over the years, and I was a prosecutor in the silver shovel case which is exactly, every single one of those prosecutions related to this issue of aldermen using their power and their clout to extract bribes from people that wanted to do business in the ward and how easy that slippery slope gets traversed because of this power that they have. And it’s really unchecked and that’s a real problem.

On her proposal for a real-estate transfer tax to help stimulate development of affordable-housing in critical neighborhoods:

Frankly the city hasn’t really occupied the space and been a leader in this. You know depending on who you talk to we are about 120,000 affordable housing units down. Again this isn’t about just – this is about making sure that Chicago continues to be a city that people can live in. We don’t want to become a San Francisco or a Seattle, particularly with families.

Also frankly we’ve talked to a number of different housing advocates coming at this from a lot of different perspectives and the thing that they tell us over and over again is that it is so difficult to get basic stuff. That the city is not set-up to be friendly whether it’s private developers, whether it’s community-based organizations, they don’t get involved early enough in a transaction and a deal and then when they get involved they put up a bunch of roadblocks instead of thinking from the perspective this is a mission critical to the city.


On the status of the CHA, and how it might be utilized differently in a Lightfoot Administration. Why, we ask, does it seem so moribund?

Because you actually have to care. You actually have to think, again, expansively about how having housing that’s affordable, not just public housing in a traditional sense, but housing that’s affordable is critical to the vitality and strength of the city. We remain one of the few metropolitan areas in the country that continues to lose population and a big part of that is because people feel like they are being squeezed on a lot of different fronts and housing is certainly one of them. So absolutely the CHA has a role to play. It’s got to be part of kind of a master plan, comprehensive plan for thinking about housing in a very fundamentally different way and really engaging with people who are out there in the trenches in the neighborhoods.

One of the things that I call for in my housing plan is doing an audit of the voucher program because it makes no sense that we are sitting on all these vouchers when there’s such an incredible need. But we also frankly – look, we’ve got to be realistic, there’s still a lot of private sector landlords who will not take those vouchers. They come up with every excuse in the book because they know if they are upfront about it they are going to subject themselves to legal liability. But we’ve got to break down those barriers so that we can stratify our neighborhoods with a lot of economic diversity and really build wealth and strength, but you can’t do that if people are housing unstable.

On Bill Daley’s assertion Wednesday that he’d strive to return Chicago’s population to 3 million from its current 2.7 million

Note the smirk on my face. I want to say to Bill with due respect where have you been? This is a guy who has got a pedigree. Obviously he’s part of a well-known family and suddenly because Goliath has been slayed he and other people jump into the race, but where’s he been? I have no idea what Bill Daley’s positions are on a range of different issues because he’s been silent. Other than bemoaning the fact that Rahm Emanuel has cast aspersions on his brother this is a guy who has been nowhere on any issue of the day. So it’s all well and good and the voters will be able to make their choice, but you know I would like to see somebody with a proven track record standing up and talking about these issues, and frankly with due respect to Bill he just doesn’t make the cut.


On Bill Daley’s claim that he’ll close more schools as necessary…

So yeah, let’s close, crash, and burn, we see how well that worked. We closed 50 schools. We did horrible injury onto those communities. We treated parents, teachers, and other stakeholders like they were unwelcomed guests. We cannot go back to that same old same old. Yeah, if Bill Daley wants to do that I think that underscores that he’s got an idea of the future that is very much tied to a very dark and bad past that got us into a lot of the messes. And I don’t mean to pick on him because frankly I think a lot of the other people who jumped into the race after Rahm Emanuel was vanquished had very similar ties to a broken machine style form of politics that don’t have a vision for the future and fundamentally do not put people first.


On the current iteration of the police consent decree, and the revisions she’d want to see as Mayor:

It allows for chokeholds. That’s the Eric Garner situation. We should not allow chokeholds. That should go the way of a lot of other bad police practices. There’s no way that you can actually engage somebody in a chokehold who is then going to be struggling and not harm them. The language in the consent decree says you can’t use a chokehold with the intent to do X, Y, and Z. Well no officer is going to say, “Oh, I choked this person and I didn’t have an intent to do harm.” It puts the officers in an impossible situation and we should just get rid of it. It allows for shooting in the crowds. That’s the Betty Jones situation. We shouldn’t allow that to happen. And it says well you need to be mindful and take care of circumstances. No. If you cannot shoot someone, the target without the worry of hitting an innocent bystander that is not a safe circumstance in which you can shoot your weapon.

The other thing that has got to change is foot pursuit. We saw earlier this summer a young man who had a gun, was fleeing the police, discarded his gun, about ready to jump over a fence and got shot in the back by the police. Foot pursuits are extremely dangerous. We need to have a real policy now. We don’t need to wait three years as the consent decree allows. This is a real and present danger for officers, the civilians that are being chased and other bystanders. We’ve got to get that right.


On the so-called Chicago gang database and what should be done with it:

I think you’ve got to decommission it. It has been used for improper purposes. There’s no consistency in the way in which peoples’ names get on. They linger for decades without getting out. It has become completely delegitimized in the eyes of the public. Obviously there are opportunities and circumstances where the collection of intelligence is relevant and important and I think about it in the context of frankly terrorist investigations. But this Chicago gang database has well passed its useful life and it needs to be decommissioned.


On what she’d say to convince rank-and-file officers that she’d be a better Mayor than Garry McCarthy:

I think what I say to rank and file officers, many of whom I know well, is that if you want someone who is going to care about making sure that you get best in class training, is going to frankly weed the department out of people who are engaged in intentional misconduct that delegitimizes you is going to work like heck to make sure that we’ve got a good and robust program to give you the opportunity to form relationships with the people in the community so that you have them on your side to be able to be successful in your mission then I’m your candidate.


And finally, why did Rahm Emanuel decide not to run again?

Because he was going to lose…Simple as that. I mean he gave a lot of other excuses, but when we started our campaign he was in the low 30s. by the time that he left his approval ratings were in the 20s. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. When you are disliked that much, and I won’t because it’s a family program share the level of vitriol that I heard and experienced from people who wanted him gone, he had no path to victory.

You can listen to the audio of the entire show here.

You can read a full transcript here: transcript November 29 2018

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CN November 15 2018 Madison Hodges


(this segment begins at 37:20 0n the video above.)

The BGA’s Madison Hodges recently revealed some goofiness in the City’s Blue Cart program that’s so crazy it’s almost difficult to describe in a serious news story.

“So we are now collecting less recycling than we were when the Mayor started this whole program to revamp recycling in Chicago and make us a greener city,” she begins.

It was supposed to be a vigorous competition between one mega-corporation, (Waste Management) a smaller, established recycling company (Lake Shore Recycling) and Streets and Sanitation’s own crews working with City trucks. Could the City do the job as efficiently as the private market? Well, as the BGA found out pretty quickly, the playing field was anything but level. And if there’ve been cost savings, they’s extremely difficult to discern.

“Streets and Sanitation doesn’t even issue exactly how much it has spent into this,” Hodges reveals, “but we know that just about on average it is costing about $20-million a year. So it’s been going about seven years, you’ve got to think it’s about $140-million so far into it.”

The City announced during the early stages of the Emanuel administration that that after about six months of competing, the City would pick a winning contractor, or a least a winning strategy. It never happened.

“But here we are about seven years later and there’s no winner named,” Hodges tells us. “And what’s more we found during the investigation is that they never even really conducted an audit or an investigation of the program to establish what that winner would be or to justify to just indefinite continuation.

These circumstances would be comical were it not for the “contamination” issue. Waste convinced the city that they can’t pull plastic bags out a a recycling cart, so therefore any cart with a bag is contaminated and they don’t have to pick it up. The City does it for them.

“But they don’t specify how strict they should be with that,” Hodges continues,” so that means that some collection crews could see one plastic bag or one greasy pizza box and determine that the whole thing is contaminated, and when they do that they leave a tag on it. They don’t pick it up and they wait for the regular city garbage crews to come by and pick it up to dump the whole thing in a landfill, and not try and sort out any of the good clean recyclables in there. And the two contractors are paid exactly the same as if they actually pick-up the materials in the blue cart, bring it to their facilities and recycle them or say they were contaminated.”

And there’s one final issue: Those landfills where the waste from blue carts goes, even thought it may be only mildly contaminated, and even though the City pays the cost of hauling it – some of those landfills are owned by Waste Management. So in some cases Mayor Emanuel’s managed competition picked up the carts the private company didn’t want to, paid the cost of hauling the stuff across the city to a dump and paid a disposal fee, often to the same company.

Now that’s managed competition!

You can watch the show by tapping the image above and moving to the :37:20 mark.

You can listen to the show here.

You can read a CN November 15 Madison Hodges

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CN November 15 2018


Kevin Jackson, the Executive Director of the Chicago Rehab Network, returns to our show for an update on Chicago’s multi-faceted plans to provide low-income housing for thousands of income-challenged citizens.

“It’s essentially structural racism that’s at the heart of the reasons we have such difficulties with our housing,” he begins. “People couldn’t live in certain places.”

In 2018, he asserts, “the greatest need remaining for the city is rental housing because of what people are making. And there are strategies that could be dealt with that enhance rental stability.”

Jackson and his colleagues have appeared recently before City Council panels and made numerous public statements about the need for affordable rentals, but it isn’t entirely clear whether the developers, who ultimately influence the big decisions, are all that sympathetic.

Jackson tells us that a big change in government responses began taking shape about 35 years ago. “Before that what was going on he had a much stronger government response,” he explains. “In the ‘70s some of the programs there was a lot of hope that we were focused on lessening this gap of people struggling to afford a place to live. And come in to the ‘80s, the Reagan era we start to see this across the board reduction of that level of support and then ends up with a tax credit, which is a great tool but it doesn’t serve, your developers will tell you, it serves more around people who make 60%, 80%, 50% of median income. It’s not serving that $15 level.”

The City responded with the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which brought some benefits to the chronically under-employed. “It was one of the things that we called for increasing because yesterday the city just put into the City Council the next five-year housing plan. And our recommendations at the Chicago Rehab Network was well let’s take that Low Income Housing Trust Fund and serve three times as many families at least if not more, because it’s such a good tool,” Jackson reveals.

There’s no indication how whether the measure stands a chance fore the City Council, especially since we’re about to enter such a volatile election with no clear Mayoral front-runner and dozens of Aldermanic challengers.

You can watch the show by clicking the link above.

You can listen to the show here.

You can read a transcript of the conversation here.

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CN November 8 2018


The  great Bruce Dumont hosts this week’s conversation with political consultant/activist Delmarie Cobb and journalist/activist Ray Hanania. It’s a deep dive into the meaning of Tuesday’s national and state elections. They discuss the size of the vote, the long-term implications of the demographic shift this election may have triggered and the challenges to Republicans in Illinois, who were all but shut out in state and county results. There’s also rampant speculation about the looming city elections just a couple of months away.

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CN October 25 2018


It would be difficult to overstate the significance of Jamie Kalven’s role in Chicago’s journalism world. A founder of the Invisible Institute and now a regular fixture at the Intercept, Kalven has been amplifying Chicago’s unheard voices for decades. But he’s been most recently celebrated for his invaluable role in bringing the LaQuan McDonald killing into the public consciousness. He and his associates were directly responsible for unearthing or discovering three of the major elements that helped convict Officer Jason Van Dyke: an unimpeachable eyewitness to the shooting, the McDonald autopsy and, ultimately, pointing the way to the damning dash-cam video.

A few weeks ago, the Institute released a powerful update to its public data-base that tracks decades of reports about police misconduct in Chicago. It’s called the Citizens’ Police Data Project, and it contains almost a quarter-million citizen reports. Unique among similar data projects in other cities, Kalven says, is the fact that this data-base includes the names of the accused officers. Toward the end of the hour, Kalven takes us on a brief tour of the site’s features.

Screenshot 2018-10-26 10.43.51.png


Much of our conversation today centers around the aftermath of the Jason Van Dyke trial, a trial that might not have happened at all, it can be argued, without the work of Kalven and his associates.

The engagement began when a still-unrevealed source “within law enforcement who reached out with the information that that shooting last week was not at all what was reported,” he tells us. “It was horrific. He disclosed that there was video and gave information that enabled me ultimately to find a civilian witness, a couple of civilian witnesses.”

Serious gravity was added to the case when Kalven was able to obtain a copy of the McDonald autopsy, which for the first time revealed evidence that contradicted that police narrative. Ultimately, Kalven obtained it through FOIA, and immediately released it to the public. But he enlisted a powerful ally.

“I reached out to Toni Preckwinkle, the President of the Cook County Board who is over the medical examiner and I described what I knew about the case to her and I asked if she would inquire of the medical examiner the substance of the autopsy.”

A kind of very-high-level FOIA request, we suggest. 

“Yeah, ” he agrees, “and a good friend to have in these circumstances, but the prevailing story of what happened is aggressive young man with a knife lunges at a police officer. The police officer shoots in self-defense, defense of his fellow officers.”

And at this point, it should be remembered, nobody had heard the term “sixteen shots.”

“The sense was he was shot in the chest, died sometime later in a nearby hospital. That was the story…And so Toni Preckwinkle made an inquiry of the medical examiner and we live close to each other on the south side and I was actually going out for a run in the evening, a cold December night, snow falling and she drove up alongside me and beckoned me into her car…As I recall it she didn’t even say hello. She immediately said, “16 shots front and back,” and that was the first time I heard those words and it continued to reverberate. And then not too long after that I was able to FOIA the autopsy. Armed with this information, Kalven wrote the article “Sixteen Shots” in Slate in February 2015, which ignited the firestorm. “She told me 16 shots and at that point I could begin to write the article that ultimately appeared,” he says.

The article, incidentally, is well worth re-reading in this post-trial environment.


After Kalven released his finding that there’s a video, a media frenzy developed as demands for the video’s release erupted. Working with a young journalist named Brandon Smith and community activist Will Calloway, Kalven’s lawyers brought suit and ultimately won a ruling that the video must be released.

Kalven was skeptical that anything would happen soon. He saw it as part of a glacial process, including appeals and other legal wrangling, that could drag the release out for another year or more. But something unexpected happened. “And for reasons that are still somewhat complicated and mysterious things played out the way they did and it was released,” he tells us.

It’s a complicated combination of issues, largely about interagency responsibilities. The States’ Attorney and the US Attorney were running the investigation, he explains, and the  Police Department and IPRA (the agencies they’d FOIA’d),  “weren’t engaged in active investigation. They had sort of stepped down, and so there was no showing of harm from the release of the video. So what was going on between those different agencies is sort of fascinating.”

“I have had conversation with people high in the mayor’s office about why they released it,” Kalven continues, “and I think they were also surprised – it was the mayor’s decision and it surprised the other agencies. I don’t think the US Attorney and State’s Attorney expected it. They had to scramble.”

We point out that, at this point, the Mayor had just been re-elected, so the political dynamic was different.

“A little different,” he agrees, “but the impression I’ve gotten from people I can’t quote at the moment but very close to it within the mayor’s office is they just recognized that the pressure had built to the point that it was uncontainable. So it was more a political dynamic. It was young activists in the street. It was the building what ultimately became this political firestorm.”

We tell Kalven that re-reading Sixteen Shots,  his Feb. 10, 2015 Slate article, published just two weeks before Emanuel was re-elected, was prophetic for its political prediction:

The McDonald footage will come out, but a great deal turns on how it comes out. Will the city be forced to release it in a way that deepens the crisis of public confidence in law enforcement, or will it be released in a way that helps restore the “foundation of trust” between residents and police on which effective law enforcement depends? If the city resists releasing the video until legally compelled to do so, outrage at what it depicts will be compounded by outrage that the city knew its contents (and the autopsy results) in the immediate aftermath of the incident yet withheld that information from the public.

The fate of Laquan McDonald—a citizen of Chicago so marginalized he was all but invisible until the moment of his death—has thus become entwined with that of Mayor Emanuel. It presents his administration with a defining moment.

“The close of the Slate article was just my sense at that point quite early in the process from where we are now,” he tells us, “that the longer they withheld the thing the more appalled people were going to be. Not simply by the atrocity that is depicted in the video, but by the idea that the city had this, knew it, and withheld it from the public.”

Jamie Kalven speaks frequently of the “machinery” that manufactures narratives for the police. And he says that machinery will be on full display as another trial begins next week. Three of the eleven officers who were present at the McDonald shooting have been charged with conspiring to cover up Van Dyke’s actions. It isn’t clear how the three were chosen to be tried, he says.

“There’s a Detective March who really was central to the orchestration of the false reporting, Walsh, Joseph Walsh who was Van Dyke’s partner that day who was closest to the action to actually see what happened and who clearly lied about it. But then the third is an officer named Gaffney who was one of the two first responders. ”

And that officer has been widely recognized as having been patient  and professional, Kalven says, calling for a Taser and following McDonald for several minutes before Van Dyke arrived . “They didn’t ask for backup even. They just asked for a taser. It wasn’t clear that they would use it, but that would be the outer limits of the force that they would use.”

“So they have witnessed an appalling event and then they go back to the station house and we will find out more of these details in this trial, but presumably in some fashion the officers present are called into a room and the conversation is not about what happened, it’s about how we are collectively going to justify what happened. I can’t imagine worse working conditions.”

“I think this is why it’s important to understand the machinery as a narrative machinery,” he concludes. “A way of imposing, power imposes itself through narrative, all of that was in the service of a one-paragraph statement that was released that night under the superintendent’s signature released on the morning of October 21stsaying a young man with a knife lunges at police officer. Police officer in self-defense shoots and kills him. What ended up being required to maintain that false narrative proved to be ultimately catastrophic for the Police Department.”

You can visit the Citizens’ Police Data-Base Project at cpdp.co.

You can watch the show by tapping the image at the top of this post.

You can listen to the show’s audio here.

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CNOctober 17 2018

It’s a conversation about science, including recycling and municipal support for science education this week, as  Kitty Kurth steps in to host.

Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the Chicago Climate Charter holds promise for  future of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, but only if the principles of the Charter are followed to fruition.

Monica Metzler of the Illinois Science Council tells us that, although Chicago does a powerful job of promoting its tech hubs, it often fails to promote the science sector, including its national labs, world-class museums, arboreta and research zoos, and five major medical centers.

They discuss recent revelations that Chicago’s recycling program is failing, and put recycling into a global perspective as fewer places in the world are accepting anything other than extremely well-sorted commodities, and only a few commodities at that.


You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen the show here.



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CN October 11 2018


The City, USA Today’s new multi-part podcast about graft, corruption, environmental racism and general municipal incompetence at the dawn of Richard M. Daley’s administration, is now in its fifth episode, with more on the way. Robin Amer is host, creator and executive producer of The City, and along with reporters Jenny Casas and Wilson Sayre. Amer says she wanted a storytelling experience not unlike The Wire, but non-fiction. And deeply researched and reported. In the first few episodes we meet many of the characters, including the outraged neighbors who watch in amazement as hundreds of giant trucks begin dumping construction debris in a multi-block empty lot at Roosevelt and Kostner.

Delores Robinson was teaching 7th and 8th grade in 1990 at Sumner Elementary School, which is directly across Fifth Avenue from the biggest of these illegal dumps.

“And she watches as they just start dumping it right across the street from the school,” Amer begins. “She is like, “What is happening? Where are these trucks coming from? What is all this stuff? Why are they putting it here?” It’s very confusing and upsetting for her and the other people who see this transpire. And immediately it’s clear to them that this is a bad situation, right. They don’t know exactly who is responsible but in a way it doesn’t matter, right. It’s like if you woke up one day, looked out your front window and saw a line of dump trucks dumping literal ton after ton of construction debris across the street from your house you wouldn’t really care who was responsible for it, you would just say, “No. No, no, no, this does not belong here.”

Amer says The City tells the story of the individuals who were directly affected by this assault, but she also wants to paint the larger picture. For decades, poorer, less politically powerful people have been neglected as newer, more stringent environmental regulations were applied to polluters. The push to include marginalized communities and to extend environmental protections to every citizen came to be called the environmental justice movement.

“You still have today, not just in Chicago but all over the country communities of color that in the environmental movement you might call frontline communities because they live right next to all of this pollution that are literally fighting for survival,” Amer tells us. “And they are having to have the same kinds of battles. They are fighting the same kinds of opposition and the same kind of really misleading rhetoric largely from corporate interests and sometimes dealing with a legal system that isn’t there to support them with a medical community that doesn’t come in and provide them with the information that they need, with a regulatory system that holds their ability to live and breathe in their own communities at the same place as a company’s ability to make money. That has not gone away.”

In fact, the past couple of years has seen a retreat from traditional environmental protection. “And those battles are in some ways even more relevant now,” she explains, “because we have a President that has decided to dismantle a lot of the regulatory structure via the EPA that have been put in place since the 1970s to try and protect communities. And so I would argue that this is in some ways a 20-year old story but it is absolutely a story of the present as well.”

The dumper, John Christopher, built the Roosevelt/Kostner dump and also a smaller one  a few blocks south, and was a denizen of what Amer calls “Chicago’s criminal underworld.” He somehow obtained a permit to crush concrete at the site, but then invited roadbuilding and construction contractors to unload there, charging tipping fees that were only a fraction of the cost to dump at a legitimate, legal facility. It appears that his biggest business expense was the $5,000 per month that federal authorities charged he was paying in bribes to the alderman, Bill Henry. (Henry died before his trial and was never convicted of the crime.)

North Lawndale, where this all happened, is a challenged community that deals every day with disinvestment, violence and unemployment. But in some ways things were worse in 1990 when Christopher was operating. The City takes the neighborhood’s history into account when telling this story.

“North Lawndale, if you are talking about the sort of early to mid-20thCentury, had been a neighborhood full of immigrants, largely what we might call white ethnic immigrants, people from Eastern Europe,” Amer explains. “A lot of Jews lived in North Lawndale. I think it had at one point the highest concentration of synagogues in the whole city. And then starting in the ‘50s the neighborhood starts to transition and by I think, 1960 the neighborhood has largely transitioned from being almost entirely white and Jewish to almost entirely black. And many of the black people who are moving to North Lawndale are coming north from the south as part of the great migration.”

“And so this is a moment of incredible transition,” she continues. “And while that transition is happening the neighborhood is also starting to deindustrialize. So it is a neighborhood that was built before zoning, so in addition to houses and churches and schools you had a lot of factories, very big factories right, Western Electric which employed something like 45,000 people. Sears & Roebuck, Zenith, Sunbeam, a lot of really iconic American brands had factories in North Lawndale. But by the time math teacher Delores Robinson had been at Sumner for two decades, she watched as the neighborhood lost something like 100,000 jobs and a third of its population, right. So the neighborhood goes through a certain kind of trauma even before our story starts and it’s that legacy of both being a segregated almost entirely black neighborhood and a neighborhood that has gone through this deindustrialization that kind of sets the stage for the story that we tell.”

You can subscribe to the podcast at  https://www.thecitypodcast.com

Watch our conversation by tapping the image above.

Listen to the audio of this show here.

Read a full transcript of the show here:CN Transcript Oct 11 2018


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CN October 4 2018

We’re joined this week by two political activist/ consultants with decades of experience in Chicago politics, to try to make sense of the mayor’s race and the Van Dyke trial. And while we’re at it, to kick around the Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court, too.

Our guests are Sylvia Ewing and Marilyn Katz. Both have worked on mayoral, aldermanic and issues campaigns, and both have advised political leaders as  consultants and spokespeople. This seemed like a perfect time to seek their wisdom as these three major issues seem to be dominating the political discourse. As it happens, at the time of our recording the Van Dyke trial was headed to the jury and Kavanaugh was a few votes away from the Supreme Court.

Both guests say that Rahm Emanuel would have wanted a third term, but that too many issues were dragging him down, and he knew it was time to leave. Both are optimistic about Toni Preckwinkle, who they say has strong political skills, a decent record at the County and an ability to motivate younger voters.


You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can read a full transcript of the show here:CN transcript Oct 4 2018

You can listen to the show here.

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